The Letter of St James is uncompromising in its demand that faith must be reflected in the good deeds that are its natural expression. Few can rest easy before the challenge of its words: “You say that you have faith and I have good deeds; I will prove to you that I have faith by showing you my good deeds. Now you prove to me that you have faith without any good deeds to show.” As sinners we must first acknowledge that there is a gap between what we say and what we do. It is only when we allow Christ to dwell in our hearts that such a gap is closed.
In recent days we have witnessed a cruel demonstration of the gulf that can sometimes divide good intentions from determined action. For months Europe has agonised over the refugee crisis that has dominated our headlines. It took the tragic image of a dead child gathered from the sea to reinforce what St James had said long ago. If good deeds do not go with our faith, then such faith is quite dead. Let us pray for a world that recognises its own poverty in the plight of our suffering neighbours.
The confession of Peter’s faith at Caesarea Philippi was both inspiring and challenging. Inspiring, because it grounds faith in the wholehearted surrender of ourselves to the person of Jesus. Peter alone unhesitatingly confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Lord of his life and centre of his being. Peter’s confession was challenging because the gap between the faith that Peter had professed, and what he was willing to become, were soon revealed. He wanted no part in the selfless sacrifice that would lead to his Lord’s death and resurrection. The rebuke that greeted his resistance was brutally honest: “Get behind me Satan, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.”
The gap between what we say and what we do is revealed in these words. True faith is modelled in the disposition of the Servant described by the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord has opened my ear. For my part I made no resistance, neither did I turn away.”
It is in humble prayer that the heart of the sinner is opened to the presence of Christ and his healing. Only when we allow his thoughts to become our thoughts, his ways to become our ways, shall we close the gap between what we say and what we do.
This article first appeared in the print edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (11/9/15)
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